Shifting Demographics and Ideological Prejudice

NPR published an article about the changing vote patterns for Asian Americans. In short, since the 80’s and early 90’s Asian Americans have been voting more and more in a Democratic direction. In 1992 about 55% of Asian Americans voted for the Republican candidate and in 2012 only about 26% voted for the Republican candidate.

In this post, I look at how this trend might be related to some of my own research.

I found this trend interesting because I study how the perceived or actual beliefs a social group tends to hold are associated with ideological-based prejudice towards that group (see here, here, & here). Since at least the late 1920’s (gated), researchers have investigated how political attitudes and ideologies are associated with prejudice (here defined as negative affect) towards a variety of social groups. Over the last few years – and building on some work from the ’60’s (semi-gated) – my collaborators and I have been testing the possibility that these correlations are due, at least in part, to the perception that social groups share social and political values.

For example, one possibility is that conservatives express prejudice towards African Americans is that they perceive African Americans has having different political values from themselves. Similarly, liberals may express prejudice towards Evangelicals because they perceive Evangelicals has having different political values from themselves. (see also here & here)

Following from these ideas, if Asian Americans have gone from relatively evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats in the early ’90’s to clearly voting for Democrats in recent years, then the correlation between ideology and prejudice towards Asian Americans should shift. Specifically, in more recent years conservatives should appear more prejudiced than liberals.

So, I started to test this idea. Major caveat before I go on: This data does not cover enough years to be convincing. This ranks slightly above a tantalizing anecdote. If anyone knows of the data to test this idea properly, please get in touch. I’m definitely interested in collaborating on this.

In in the ANES cumulative file there is available data for the correlation between political beliefs (ideology: liberals<–>conservative; party identification: strong Democrat<–>strong Republican) and prejudice towards Asian Americans (prejudice<–>liking). Below I plotted the percentage of Asian Americans voting for the Republican candidate (from Roper Center) and the size of the political beliefs and prejudice correlations (participants identifying as Asian or Pacific Islander were excluded from the ANES data).

X-axis = Percent of Asian Americans voting for Republican presidential candidate from Roper Center. Y-axis = correlation between ideology/partyID and prejudice (i.e. a feeling thermometer)
X-axis = Percent of Asian Americans voting for Republican presidential candidate from Roper Center. Y-axis = correlation between ideology/partyID and prejudice (i.e. a feeling thermometer)

There are two interesting things about these plots. First, the correlation between political beliefs and prejudice never gets above an absolute value of tiny. Politics is just not a great predictor of prejudice in this case. Second, the plots suggest that the more Asian Americans are voting for Democrats, the “stronger”* the association between political beliefs and prejudice, such that Democrats/liberals are more tolerant than Republicans/conservatives. This is what we would predict, which is cool, but my own motivated reasoning, the lack of data across the years, the unknown influence of third variables, and the overall tiny effects makes it difficult to get too excited.

*Stronger is in scare quotes because, perhaps, the real take home should be that these correlations are very very tiny.

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